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If you are a true home theater technology enthusiast having a large screen, powerful projector, speakers up to the neck, hi-end preamps and amps, black curtains, screen masks, a dark cave to improve contrast and visual concentration for the best possible image, etc., in other words, a priority based in quality technology for the best possible sound and video, rather than investing mostly in seating, starlight ceilings, light sconces, movie posters, and pop corn machines, which is what most people do when thinking about their home theaters, then, keep reading, this piece is for you.

Recent InfoComm 2015 and east coast AV conferences reminded me that there is a light at the end of the true 4K-home-projector tunnel, laser or otherwise, that may compete in today’s Sony’s-only-4K-land.

I am talking about projectors that do not play tricks faking 4K images with e-shift/wobulated solutions using 1080p DLP, LCoS, or LCD HD imagers. True 4K Cinema projectors at home, without being a Quentin Tarantino, Lucas Ranch, or a Stephen Spielberg rich-and-famous movie director with a money-is-no-object projector approach of a $200K Barco/Christie large venue monster piece having a light output that makes you believe can illuminate the moon landing from earth.

Did I get your attention?

At InfoComm 2015 in Orlando the plans of most projector manufacturers enhanced my hope, and two additional days of technology sessions at Display Summit got my undivided attention as well, however, if you expect official announcements and press releases of the information I include below think about waiting further, such as CES 2016 in January, CEDIA 2015 in a few weeks, or even the first half of 2016, unless their plans are totally scratched.

At the conference I met with Barco, Christie, Sony, Panasonic, NEC, Epson, Digital Projection, Texas Instruments, Optoma, JVC, LG, Samsung, Sharp, etc., and the information and demos I got made me optimistic that a variety of 4K projector home-versions will be introduced within a few months to a year, most subjected to the availability of a true 4K smaller DMD DLP chip for consumer projectors from Texas Instruments, and many manufacturers are also departing from lamp traditional designs (laser or LEDs light sources).

At the same time, Samsung, LG and Sharp confirmed once again that they have no plans to (re)introduce any front projector, 4K or otherwise, which is sad because their 1080p models showed well at their time, not to mention Samsungs’ model designed with the professional input of Joe Kane, a known figure in the world of quality video.

One common denominator of the finger pointing responses of manufacturers of true DLP 4K projectors has been the long waited availability of a smaller 4K DLP DMD chip from Texas Instruments suitable for smaller home-theater projectors.

While some manufacturers mentioned the imminent availability of such chip for next year, one manufacturer commented that TI’s 4K DMD chip is expected toward the end of 2015, and that they are reducing the size and cost of current commercial-theater 4K projectors from Barco and Christie for example.

For those that swear laser is better, many manufacturers declared they will also implement laser light engines, some even offering replaceable engines if 20,000 hours-to-reach-50%-light-life is not enough for you, or if you do not want to trash an expensive projector because the light output is not any more acceptable to you.

I also met Philips presenting their LED light engine that consolidates all the light power in a small tube that multiplies several times the lumens capability. Philips is partnering with Hitachi and Optoma, for now, and their invention could either be implemented on DLP or 3-LCD.

Christie said they are already working on a smaller home version of their large venue projectors and they expect for it to be available within 12 months as soon Texas Instruments delivers their smaller DLP 4K DMD chip, they are working in parallel to Texas Instruments’ effort, adapting the modular design of the larger projectors to be fitted into a smaller enclosure. Christie said they can offer a 1-DLP-chip or 3-DLP-chip version, it would have 2 lamps instead of 6, plenty enough light output for high quality Home Theaters.

Digital Projection had the Insight Series, as LED with 60,000 hours of illumination life, Laser with no lamps to replace, and Quad with 30,000 lumens for large screens and outdoor projection. The company also showed a 4K projector (4096x2160), 3-chip DLP, 2,000:1 contrast ratio, capable to reproduce near Rec.2020 color space, 115lbs, $150,000 including the lens, 35 dB low noise because LED light engine (on high lamp, around 25-30dB on low lamp), September 2015 availability, iris functionality is unknown for the residential version yet, supports HDCP 2.2 and HDR (with HDMI 2.0a), 18Gbps HDMI and 4:4:4 color sub-sampling.

Digital Projection projector at Infocomm 2015

NEC showed a 3-chip DLP 4K projector with laser for commercial application, 120 lbs, $100,000+. NEC said that for the consumer there is a Cinema version projector lamp base 3-DLP (as heavy as the laser version), but I did not see a demo of it.

Digital Projection Insight Series at Infocomm 2015

Panasonic has a 3-chip DLP with laser, large enclosure, $100,000, 100lbs, available in November, not oriented to consumer home theaters; the lens price was separate and unknown at that time.

With a few exceptions no projector manufacturer wanted to commit to any pricing on their future 4K consumer projectors, however, Christie said their intent is to compete with a DLP engine, possibly with laser, in the $30K range, which is a bit above Sony flagship 4K SXRD projector’s price range ($25-$29K).

TI’s DLP 4K DMD has been surprisingly late in the 4K consumer projector market letting Sony offer the only option to consumers for almost 4 years.

Barco showed their large venue projector and also expressed similar plans, no pricing was disclosed.

Sony showed prototypes of their new laser 4K models VPL-GTZ270 and 280 with 5000 lumens 4096x2160 SXRD chips. Sony’s rep at the booth said the 270 is targeted for commercial applications to show still images, and the 280 for moving images, and two 280s can be installed right on top of each other or side-by-side if 5000 lumens are not enough for you.

They weight 88lbs on a relatively large cabinet, have 35dB noise level, periodic auto-calibration for constant image brightness, sealed optics from lens to light source to avoid dust accumulation, 20,000 hours of operation of zero maintenance or 40,000 hours in low brightness mode, smear reduction to minimize image blur in fast-motion scenes, 120Hz input, wide color space and capable of converting BT.709 to BT.2020 simulated, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Reality Creation 4K Upscaling using Sony’s proprietary algorithm based on 10 years of accumulated expertise, no pricing was offered at the show other than commenting that they will probably be lower than $100K, available on December 2015.

Their introduction gave the impression (and I expressly asked the questions) that Sony is on track for a smaller enclosure version that may replace their current home-theater 4K flagship VPL-VW1100ES, which is almost 40 lbs lighter, however, Sony expressed no commitment to use either a Laser or LED based light engine for the Home Theater version (they have LED data projectors). Perhaps CES on January 2016 may be an opportunity for Sony to show a prototype of such projector or even at CEDIA later this year, other than the short throw laser projector that was already introduced by the company.

Epson did not show a 4K projector at InfoComm but commented that they were working on a true 4K projector with a laser light engine with 3-LCD, which may be made available in 2016.

Optoma, one of the first companies that released a home-theater 1080p DLP projector in 2006, the model 81LV, which I owned and provided good 2500 lumens of light output and image quality for even CinemaScope screens, relative to the almost non-existing 1080p competition at that time, commented that they do not have any official statement about plans for releasing a 4K DLP projector, for the same reasons expressed by other DLP projector manufacturers: not having yet available a smaller 4K DLP DMD chip from Texas Instruments.

However, Optoma said they were aware that the direction to take was 4K. I would not be surprised to see a new 4K DLP projector introduction using laser technology sometime in 2016 if TI’s DMD chip is released.

Three months after Infocomm 2015 I also attended an AV conference by Infocomm (Big Book AV, Stampede in Herndon VA), and Optoma issued the same comments, They introduced a soon to be available laser/phosphor projector, not for 4K, using blue laser light to create red and green light, and then combine them all to obtain white light, and use the color wheel, 20,000 hours life, no warranty conditions or pricing are set yet, they were talks about laser engine replacement but Optoma has not offered information for that service.

At the same AV conference Optoma also introduced a dual-lamp projector (to avoid the need of stacking projectors or higher lumens), alternately turning on/off 5,000 lumen lamps, or both lamps in parallel for a total of 10,000 lumens of light, targeted for commercial purposes, no 4K resolution.

Optoma currently has an LED Home Cinema LED projector HD91+ 1080p, 1500 lumens, 1-chip DLP, LED life 20,000 hours. The company gave the impression that it would not take too long for Optoma to apply LED or laser/phosphor to a 4K DLP version, but no announcements were made.

As usual, JVC commented that they cannot talk officially about what they are doing for 4K consumer projection with a true 4K DiLA chip, a position they maintained consistently at every AV conference over the past 3 years while introducing several generations of 1080p DiLA projector lines that display an e-shifted image that claims a 4K “appearance”.

JVC’s approach filled a 4K projector market space on the $5K-13K price range without actually having a 4K projector, while Sony continued offering their original VPL-VW1000ES (and later its VPL-VW1100ES upgraded version), a true 4K projector for $25k-$28k, introduced in 2012 with also LCoS technology, however, over the past couple of years Sony introduced other true 4K projectors at much lower prices, one priced well below $10K.

In other words, if for about the same price of models with acceptable light output, would you buy a JVC e-shift 1080p projector that claims to display an image perceived as 4K, or rather buy a true 4K projector from Sony?

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A couple of weeks ago at another AV conference I met with a commercial business consultant for one of the two largest TV Korean companies and he told me that over the next few weeks he will receive a new JVC true 4K consumer projector which he planned to keep for his personal use because he always liked JVC projectors, he added that although the Sony flagship was a great unit and showed excellent 4K, it was too expensive for his budget. He also mentioned that JVC was planning to offer one high-end 4K line on the $35K range and another lower line for about half of that price range, in early 2016. Again, no official statements, no press releases, but this time, as opposed to the past 3 years, JVC and other manufacturers appear to be actually working on soon to be available true 4K projectors.

The above motivates the competition, although they would come to market 3+ years after Sony’s 4K introduction, which is still currently alone in the 4K projection market, and consumers would benefit from companies competing in quality and price, and additionally, upon getting new UHD Blu-ray players and 4K movies in a few months they will be watching them with stunning quality in excellent 4K projection systems.

Most if not all DLP projector manufacturers I met with blamed TI’s lack of the smaller 4K DMD chip over the past years as the reason for them not to be able to introduce their 4K projectors to the market.

Others believe that is more the fault of the DLP projector’s manufacturers for not putting enough pressure as a group for TI to timely manufacture the key 4K DMD component they need to been able to compete in the 4K consumer projection market.

Texas Instruments declined to provide a confirmation of their effort on their official response to my inquiry, other than “we can meet at CES 2016 to talk”.

The above situation created a vacuum that let TV makers introduce 4K to the market and offer 4K panels as small as 55-inches diagonal screens, causing negative comments when journalism claimed that 4K was not worth because most people that viewed the UHDTV sets was not able to differentiate between HD and UHD, not to mention justifying a higher price.

Additionally, consumers did not have any interest in changing their seating arrangements to shorten the viewing distance to appreciate a positive difference in the higher resolution, even when by getting closer to the set they would have increased their immersion in the content by widening the viewing cone angle (left to right) beyond 40 degrees. Consequently, negative comments affected the overall impression consumers may have of 4K resolution in general regardless of screen size, even if they may not have actually seen 4K.

4K projectors should have been introduced first, not just let Sony be alone in the market, because they are the most capable displays to show the difference in image quality between SD, HD, and UHD due to the larger screen sizes, and without rearranging sofas.

By promoting 4K with smaller UHDTVs the 4K/UHD industry lost 3 years since 2012 and failed to demonstrate the improvement in image quality that could have been easily admired if using 4K projectors, which in turn would have motivated consumers to upgrade their TV sets to larger panels when enticed by their own eyes.

Although the industry may have lost that opportunity it is now introducing further image quality improvements over the 4K resolution baseline, such as High Dynamic Range (HRDR) for a higher contrast of whites and blacks on the same image, faster frame rates for smoothing fast action imaging, and larger color spaces to reproduce more colors than HDTV and Cinema offered.

Are you ready for another upgrade?

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, September 24, 2015 9:28 AM

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About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.